No matter how big or small your business is, you can take practical steps to be more sustainable.

Follow our steps to guide you on your sustainability journey.

1. Understand sustainability

Visitors care about the sustainability of their tourism experiences. They want to travel lightly and minimise the impact they have on the places they visit.

To be sustainable, you need to operate in a way that’s sensitive to the environment, culture and communities. 

Being more sustainable helps you:

  • build your reputation with visitors and meet their expectations
  • use resources efficiently to save money
  • keep up with or gain an advantage over your competitors
  • attract and retain good employees
  • partner with other businesses (such as suppliers) that may need proof of your progress for their climate change reporting
  • comply with current laws and prepare for emerging ones.

Be aware of similar terms

Every tourism business, no matter its size or location, can be more sustainable. Sustainable tourism businesses are not just found in natural environments, but also in cities and towns. Don’t confuse sustainable tourism with these terms:

  • Nature tourism – a tourism experience that takes place in or helps people experience a natural environment. Not all forms of nature tourism are sustainable.
  • Eco-tourism – a specific form of nature tourism that focuses on educating people about the natural environment. Eco-tourism is often sustainable.
  • Regenerative tourism – a tourism experience that focuses on restoring and improving natural environments, cultural heritage and local communities. Regenerative tourism needs sustainable practices in place first.

2. Show your commitment

A first step in your sustainability journey is to show you’re committed to being more sustainable.

You can do this by thinking about what’s important to you and putting that into a statement. Describe what you’re already doing, and what you want to achieve and how you’ll achieve it.

Display your statement somewhere that’s easy for visitors to find, such as:

  • on your website
  • in your promotional materials
  • at the entry to your property.

Update your statement over time as your actions change.

Example of a statement

At Business X we understand the importance of sustainability for the future of our environment, community and business.

Our team is committed to reducing negative effects and making a positive impact on the environment and community.

We will do this by:

  • working with local farmers to compost our waste and source 40% of our food within 100 km of our café
  • working with local Traditional Owners to improve our understanding of First Nations cultures and include their stories in our customer experiences
  • using 100% renewable energy to power our café by 2030
  • working with the local high school to provide training for local students
  • partnering with local First Nations businesses to include native food ingredients on our menu
  • regularly reviewing and updating our sustainability action plan and assessing our risks and performance each year.

3. Measure and manage your progress

Once you know where you want to be, you can work out how to get there.

You can’t manage what you don’t measure. It’s important to understand your current performance and track your progress over time. This helps you focus on actions that make the most difference to your bottom line, your community and the planet.

To see how you’re performing you can measure:

  • the resources you use
  • your carbon footprint
  • your social and economic impact.

For example, you could count:

  • the water you use
  • the amount of energy you draw from the grid or renewables
  • the waste you send to landfill
  • the volunteer hours you spend on local conservation efforts
  • how much diesel or petrol your business vehicles use
  • how many people you employ within 20 km of your business.

You can benchmark (compare your performance) against your own targets and also the performance of similar businesses. Seek advice on an appropriate benchmark from your accountant, local chamber of commerce or sustainability experts.

Download our Energy, water and waste tracker template

It will help you measure the amount of energy, water and waste your tourism business uses.

4. Prepare for disasters and manage risks

Climate change is making natural disasters more frequent, severe and costly.

Preparing your business can help you reduce the effects of a disaster.

5. Plan the action you will take

A sustainability action plan helps you identify actions you can take to be more sustainable. It also helps you work out the value of different actions so you can choose ones that work for you.

As a starting point, think about what you can do to:

  • reduce your energy, water and waste
  • work with your local community
  • build local culture, stories and heritage into the experiences you offer
  • follow government laws and global commitments.

6. Know the laws you need to follow

You need to follow national, state and local laws for sustainability.

Some of these laws may keep changing. For example, rules for the use of single-use plastics.

Make sure you stay up to date with the rules for your business.

7. Get certified

Consider getting recognised for the steps you’re taking towards sustainability through certification or accredited training.

This helps you build credibility and trust with visitors and continue to improve through annual audits.

Different certification and accredited training programs focus on:

  • sustainability standards specific to visitor economy businesses
  • sustainable architecture and building design standards
  • environmental and social governance and reporting standards
  • international standards which cover a wide range of topics (such as quality standards, energy management systems and sustainable events)
  • performance and greenhouse gas reporting standards.

Make sure the program you choose is trustworthy and credible.

Your state or regional tourism organisation can help connect you to Australian certifying organisations. Some Australian tourism industry associations also offer programs that help build business capability, including on sustainability.

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